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At Restoration Church, we are going to finish the year reading and studying the book of Philippians. One of the Apostle Paul’s epistles (letters) is addressed “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with bishops and deacons.”1 The vast majority of New Testament scholars accept Philippians as an authentic letter by Paul written while he was imprisoned in Rome. It is a friendship letter written to thank and encourage his fellow Gospel laborers while also addressing the “likelihood of further persecution the church will face and an exhortation to work together.”2 Knowing the background and historical context of the city will help us understand Paul’s original purpose for his letter, and how his words apply to us today. So, it’s time to think back to your high school and college world history classes and recall what you know about Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II, was the king of Macedonia (Northern Greece). He successfully united most of the Greek city states into a single political entity (4th Century B.C.). As Philip grew in power and military might, he set his sight on conquering the Persian Empire. You may be wondering how Philip II relates to the resource rich, small farming town of Philippi. Before it was Philippi, it was known as “Springs” because of its underground water supply. Upon learning about gold deposited in the area, Philip II kicked out the locals, remodeled the town and named it Philippi after himself.3

Upon Philip’s assassination in 336 B.C., his son Alexander came to power and changed the entire course of history for Europe and Asia. Tutored by Aristotle, Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, expanded his rule from Greece to India and is regarded by many as the greatest military mind to ever live.4 Upon his death, the Macedonian Empire crumbled and was divided between Alexander’s generals. However, not even the death of Alexander could stop the influence and infiltration of the Greek/Macedonian culture (Hellenism) into the known world. And the city of Philippi prospered greatly during the Hellenistic period, acquiring fortification walls, a theatre, public buildings, and private residences. Philippi was a sophisticated, Greek city. The rise of Hellenism would reshape the landscape of society for centuries to come.5

The Roman Empire conquered the Greek empire in 146 B.C. According to the archeological site of Philippi, “in 42 B.C., the battle of Philippi, fought on the two low hills outside the west walls of the city, changed its character completely: after his victory, Octavian converted Philippi into a Roman Colony. The city expanded and developed into an economic, administrative, and artistic center.” When Paul enters the city to share the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time on European soil, Philippi “was like a miniature Rome. Although small in size, the city was governed by Roman law, used Latin as its primary language and held Roman currency.”6

As we study the book of Philippians, it’s vital to its message to understand the historical context of its original audience. Philippi was a small-town, thriving within the Roman empire while continuing to possess deeply rooted Greek history and influence. There were very few Jews living in Philippi, so Paul did not rely on his Jewish heritage to share the good news. He went to the people and preached to them with Greek and Roman thought and context. In Philippi, Paul made both enemies and friends while establishing a thriving, diverse church. Fueled by God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit, the small-town of Philippi would be the first city in Europe to be introduced to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Next week, we will meet the first Christian convert in Europe, a businesswoman for Thyatira named Lydia.

Philippian ruins

Philippian theater

Philippian Agora (City Square)

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